Florida International U

FIU’s rushing attack lacks big play ability

The only thing you can say about the defense’s inability to stop the run in FIU’s 27-17 loss to Louisiana Tech on Saturday is it overshadowed the offense’s complete inability to run the football.

And it’s a trend that points to a clear weakness.

Oh, Saturday’s 45 yards on 23 carries — 52 yards on 22 carries, without the one sack of sophomore quarterback Alex McGough — represents the first time this season FIU (2-2) failed to reach 100 yards rushing. Technically, that is.

FIU’s 123 yards on 33 carries in this season’s other loss, to Indiana, includes 33 yards by backup quarterback Trey Anderson with the Panthers down two touchdowns in the dying minutes and Indiana caring only about preventing big passing plays. So, really, as far as a regular pitch-and-handoff-maybe-a-scramble running game against Indiana’s base defense, that was 90 yards on 30 carries (98 on 28, minus two sacks). In neither loss could FIU run the ball consistently.

That’s because both the Hoosiers and the Bulldogs overwhelmed the Panthers through the middle with their defensive tackles.

“We just weren’t able to run the ball inside, where we wanted to,” FIU sophomore running back Alex Gardner said Saturday. “We thought we could attack them inside. We didn’t. We had some success on some outside plays. We’ve got to get better. Trust our reads and stay on our blocks.”

Saturday’s game saw Tech defensive tackle Aaron Brown make four solo tackles, one of which was a tackle for loss, and six total tackles. Brown’s 316-pound teammate, Vernon Butler, had four tackles. With FIU occupied with handling the Bulldogs defensive line, linebacker Beau Fitte ran rampant, ruining Panthers offensive plays up inside, outside, this side, that side.

“We couldn’t enforce our will,” Gardner said. “If we would’ve been able to run the ball, we would’ve had a mix, been more balanced. But we weren’t balanced. We didn’t have a run game at all.”

Instead, FIU relied totally on the pass. Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough’s final passing statistics — 29 of 44 for 263 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions — look good, they got prettied up by a garbage time touchdown drive.

▪ Nothing could pretty up the FIU health situation, although it could’ve been uglier. Tight end Jonnu Smith returned to the game after a first quarter thigh contusion. Junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams and redshirt junior offensive lineman Trenton Saunders hobbled off the field. Safety Jordan Davis never made the trip after hurting his knee Wednesday.

FIU coach Ron Turner said he didn’t know Williams status and, “You could ask about 30 guys and I’d have the same response.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal